RELEASE: CAP Releases New Road Map for Higher Education Equity, Affordability

Washington, D.C. — Today, the Center for American Progress released Beyond Tuition, a comprehensive plan to tackle student debt and inequity in the U.S. higher education system. With college costs skyrocketing, student loan debt topping $1.5 trillion, and significant access and attainment gaps for students of color and low-income students across the higher education system, this report serves as a road map to create a high-quality postsecondary education system that is affordable, equitable, and accountable to all of the students it serves.

“It is well past time for a bold, targeted investment in our higher education system,” said Ben Miller, senior director for Postsecondary Education at the Center for American Progress. “For too long, a college degree has been out of reach, particularly for underrepresented students. This plan seeks to close persistent race and income gaps in college access and completion; address historic and systematic inequity in our higher education system; and ensure that access to higher education in America is not a privilege, but a fundamental civil right.”

The CAP plan is built around three core promises—affordability, accountability, and quality—that recognize that students face challenges beyond just the high cost of tuition.

The foundation of Beyond Tuition is the affordability promise, which proposes that all families should be able to pay for college out of pocket. Families that earn less than 150 percent of the federal poverty level—about $38,000 for a family of four—will not have to pay or borrow for college. In addition to receiving full support for tuition and fees, these students will also receive up to $10,000 per year for living expenses, which too often stand as a barrier to persistence and completion. Because the promise of an affordable education should not be limited to low-income students, Beyond Tuition proposes that middle-income families pay no more than 10 percent of their income for public college, and that no family will pay more than 20 percent of their income. Funding would come from a federal/state matching program for public colleges, and a federal/institutional match for private, nonprofit colleges.

But access to affordable college is not enough if students cannot finish, or if the education they receive does not give them tools for lifelong success. To ensure students receive a high-quality education that meets their needs, Beyond Tuition calls on participating colleges to conduct an equity audit to identify gaps in institutional policy and practice that could lead to poor results for marginalized students. Schools would use this equity audit to drive reforms and offer services that can help students who need it most.

Finally, the plan calls for all parties—the federal government, states, accreditors, and colleges—to do their part in upholding the promises of affordability and quality. Each entity would sign a performance contract that ensures it does its job, whether that be providing funding, closing equity gaps, or ensuring programs are of high quality. In doing so, the plan creates a blueprint for how participating colleges can identify and work to break down barriers to access and completion on their campuses, and holds them accountable should they fall short.

Beyond Tuition is a sweeping, progressive vision for higher education that goes beyond the typical push for free tuition by emphasizing the need for equity, affordability, quality, and accountability—so that college is truly within reach for all Americans.

  • Read the report: “Beyond Tuition” by CAP’s Postsecondary Education team
  • Click here to read the summarizing factsheet
  • Watch the video: “Beyond Tuition: A New Vision for Higher Education”

For more information or to speak with an expert, please contact Kyle Epstein at kepstein@americanprogress.org or 202-481-8137.